It’s not too hard to imagine what this property was like in the 1870’s when the vineyard was first planted. Sitting 1,200 feet above the Napa Valley, the view to the Palisades and Mount St. Helena has changed little from that time. The original vineyards were replaced with walnuts and prunes during prohibition, but the land has retained its wild, rustic character. David and Cathy Marsten, enticed by the romance of growing grapevines, purchased this hillside property in 1969. The following year they moved to Calistoga to start a family, build a house, and resurrect the vineyard.
When André Tchelistcheff, renowned dean of California winemaking, was asked what the Marstens should plant, he surveyed the land and said, “Zinfandel would grow well here, but plant something you like.” Others were similarly lukewarm about Zinfandel’s merit. “It has very little commercial value,” said one winemaker friend. However, when Cathy and David talked to an elderly neighbor who had grown up nearby, he said the place had been planted to Zin back in his boyhood days. That clinched it. The land was meant to be planted to Zinfandel. In the years since then, the grape variety has grown in stature and is now know as California’s heritage grape and bottlings from old hillside vineyards are particularly prized. For over three decades, the fruit was sold to several well respected wineries including Caymus, Burgess and Ravenswood. However, because of the miniscule yields from this hand-cultivated and dry-farmed vineyard, the fruit was a small contributor to big, multi-source blends. This project is an effort to see what this extraordinary site can achieve with single minded care, passion and attention.
The inaugural offering of 2005 Franz Hill Zinfandel is a wine that stays true to its rustic roots, but has just a hint of polish. This wine couldn’t be confused with anything other than Zinfandel, it’s all wild bramble fruit and cracked black pepper. More to the point, it tastes like Franz Hill: the earth, the trees and the memories. This wine couldn’t come from anywhere else other than this property and we are proud to be able to offer you an authentic, hand-crafted expression of this land.
These two small vineyard blocks, called big and little, yield a scant .4 ton of fruit to the acre (one-tenth the Napa Valley average). With only 10 barrels produced, supply is rather limited. So, please fill out and return the order form with full payment at your earliest convenience and we’ll try our best to fulfill all orders as quickly and fairly as possible.
Jack Bittner Sara Claire Marsten Bittner